Victims of human traffic or just a clever plan to grab some cash?

A new wave of victims of human trafficking in Antwerp threatens to flood the already very tight shelter. Antwerp Mayor Bart De Wever (N-VA) is sounding the alarm at the Cabinet of Minister of welfare Hilde Crevits (CD&V). “Money is urgently needed.’

Last week, the Antwerp City Council sent a brand letter to the Cabinet of Flemish Minister of welfare Hilde Crevits (CD&V). A first letter had gone unanswered at the end of August. In it, the financial situation of the non-profit organization Payoke is called ‘without a doubt very precarious’ and the urban reception costs for the victims of human trafficking at the shipyard of the chemical giant Borealis in Antwerp are estimated at more than 220,000 euros.

The Cabinet of Antwerp Mayor Bart De Wever (N-VA) emphasises that the large number of victims in this case puts unprecedented financial and operational pressure on both Payoke, which is responsible for the reception and guidance of the victims, and the city of Antwerp, which pays living wages through the OCMW, and provides medical support and housing.

According to the Antwerp Minister of Social Affairs Tom Meeuws (Vooruit), the OCMW mapped 167 Borealis victims. Of them, Payoke escorts 39 Filipinos and 14 Bengals. Another wave is coming, because fraud with Labor cards was also detected on the site of the chemical company BASF in the port of Antwerp this summer. 83 Filipinos and 2 Indians have been identified. 64 of them are eligible to be recognized in our country as victims of human trafficking.

The majority – 39 workers – live in the Netherlands, but since last week The Hague has been systematically evicting them from their homes. The workers who were active on the BASF site in Belgium are at risk of ending up on the streets. For them, nothing remains but to come to our country. Together with the 25 other ‘BASF victims’, they can be granted the status of victims of human trafficking or human smuggling.

According to various stakeholders, this threatens to trigger a new wave that puts the shelter under unsustainable pressure. ‘More and more cases of economic exploitation and human trafficking are emerging,’ says Anton Van Dijk, director of Payoke. ‘In this phase, we have already received funding from the Departments of welfare and justice for 70 counselling sessions, but that is far from sufficient. We are on the edge of the abyss. If no structural solution is found, Payoke will no longer be able to fulfil its legal mandate by the end of this year. Then we can close the doors.’

The Cabinet of De Wever points out the responsibility of Crevits, who is temporarily replaced in this dossier by her colleague Benjamin Dalle (CD&V). “There is an urgent need for Flemish money,” it says. ‘For the period since October 1, no solution is available, nor for the next victims who will be reported to Payoke soon. A very urgent intervention is required.’

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